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[GreenYes] Re: The Death of Recycling


Very interesting article....he/she makes some valid points about Zero Waste
and recycling. I fought the Zero Waste concept myself for years. I use to
say to Bill Sheehan, then ED of GRRN, "Bill, how the heck to you think we
can get to zero waste, or even "darn close" if we can't even get the
beverage container recycling rate back up to 50% and beverage containers (on
a tonnage basis) are the single most valuable segment of municipal solid

But I've come to embrace Zero Waste. For me it's a question of moving the
ball further away from 100% wasting, with a goal of getting as close to zero
waste as possible. At this point in time, for beverage containers at least,
we're a long darn way from zero waste. In fact we're at 77% wasting. I'd
like to see the needle move from 77% wasting to 48% wasting, which is where
we were about 15 years ago. But I wouldn't want to stop there. Why not
push the envelope.

Frankly, I think we all owe a debt of thanks to the author of the article
below. The article is worth a read, and some serious thinking about the
legitimate issues he/she raises. For example:

* Backhauling trash from an event in a remote location to a trash bin
in another area is NOT Zero Waste. It is just moving a lot of waste.

* Collecting stuff for recycling is not really recycling if you are
just passing junk along to a mill who has to screen it out and dispose of

* In many areas, achieving a certain "diversion" or recycling number
has become so important that what recycling or diversion "is" has become

Thanks for passing this along Pete.


Pat Franklin

New email address: PatFarrellFranklin@no.address

-----Original Message-----
From: GreenYes@no.address [mailto:GreenYes@no.address] On Behalf
Of Pete Pasterz
Sent: Friday, April 13, 2007 11:56 AM
To: greenyes@no.address
Subject: [GreenYes] The Death of Recycling

I have to say I'm surprised that there have been NO postings on greenyes

in reaction to the "Death of Recycling" posting from John Reindl over a

week ago. I expected it to stimulate MUCH philosophical discussion on

this, a premier list of Zero Waste advocates....

Below is an example of reaction [attribution intentionally removed] to

the Palmer article on another listserv I belong to...there had been a

string of reactions prior to this posting from today, all taking offense

with some aspects of Palmer's assertions or attitudes, and many by

extension, taking offense to Zero Waste and its advocates.

Any reactions?

Pete Pasterz




I have to say, I hate the Zero Waste movement and will resist any

efforts to align either RecycleMania or CURC to it.

First, it is promoting a concept that is impossible by the laws of

physics. No process is 100% efficient. Thus, any process shall produce

waste. Period. There is NO zero-waste process in nature. It is a

question of what happens to that waste that is the issue.

Second, I have witnessed several folks promote "Zero Waste Successes"

that are really "zero waste frauds." Backhauling trash from an event in

a remote location to a trash bin in another area is NOT Zero Waste. It

is just moving a lot of waste. Not putting out trash barrels for an

event, only to see the trash littered around campus or thrown into

existing trash dumpsters to make them overflow is NOT zero waste. It is

only creating headaches for the grounds and custodial staff. Diverting

50% of waste from an event is impressive, but not Zero Waste.

Third, is that our existing recycling & diversion rates are already

suspect. Collecting stuff for recycling is not really recycling if you

are just passing junk along to a mill who has to screen it out and

dispose of it. This is an especially troubling issue with single-stream

programs shipping stuff to China. I have heard reports of as much as

40% of that material being landfilled as contamination (China is without

a native paper industry and so desperate for fiber that they don't seem

to mind, but is this really recycling?). Is this really recycling, or

is it exporting trash? If I told you I was going to ship 40 tons of

trash to China for them to landfill, folks would demonize me. However,

if I ship 100 tons of single-stream recycling to China, knowing that 40

tons of that will have to be screened out and landfilled, I am then

lauded for doing an exceptional job? In many areas, achieving a certain

"diversion" or recycling number has become so important that what

recycling or diversion "is" has become irrelevant. And now, we are

going to chase another unattainable number, further risking that how we

achieve the number is meaningless, as long as we achieve it?

Fourth, despite all of the money that has gone into promoting zero waste

over the past few years, I have a basic question that has never been

answered. The question is now 2 decades old from a little old lady here

in Western Mass. Back almost 20 years ago, during the rush of the

modern wave of recycling, there was a meeting in the hill towns around

Northampton. Experts from DEP, EPA, and the environmental community

were promoting how recycling and waste reduction was going be so

successful that it would eliminate the need for landfills. A little old

lady dumbfounded the panel and crowd with a basic question: "what do we

do with condoms?" In the age of AIDS, you are not going to promote not

using them. As many strides as have been made in making them thinner

and more sensitive, you cannot waste-reduce them. You are not going to

reuse them. And in almost 20 years of doing this all over the country,

I have yet to find a market that would even consider recycling them.

Her point and mine is that there is always going to be waste. I have

posed her question to Zero Waste "experts" all around the country. I

have received lots of eye-rolling. I have received either snickers or

condemnation about how much of an a-hole I am. But I have never heard

her question answered.

I am all for continued process improvement. I am all for sustainable

manufacturing processes that incorporate life-cycle-design,

cradle-to-cradle concepts, designing for recycling, etc. I am all for

green purchasing practices and think we all have a long way to go on

that front. If we want to promote those things, count me in!!!

However, if we just want to jump on a Zero-Waste bandwagon because it is

the latest buzz word, count me out. I don't want to threaten to take my

ball and go home, but it may eventually come to that.

Our current success with the public perception is tentative at best. We

have a RecycleMania competition with more holes in the rules than a

colander (for example, I would love to count the Red Sox box score with

only David Ortiz's stats, or love to say, well David Ortiz hit 233 home

runs for his career so let's assume everyone on the roster does that).

We have a CURC organization that after more than a decade has struggled

to gain traction with anyone on campus other than Recycling Coordinators

(not APPA, not Nacubo, etc.). We have constant challenges to the

"recycling is good" message that we seem stunned by and seem like we are

not fully ready to discuss and defend other than with outrage. And now

we want to distance ourselves even more from reality and the mainstream

by linking Zero Waste to our efforts? I think we really need to

re-evaluate that idea.

Some folks have discovered bits of the history of the zero waste

movement. Here is some more general info (at the risk of being

stereotypical). Before recycling was "accepted" and incorporated into

daily life, recycling experts were mostly advocates. All very natural

in the evolution of any program. They did a good job. However, when

recycling became accepted, it changed the need from advocates to

managers. Some folks made that transition. Some were not able to and

had not ability to be anything other than an advocate. Unfortunately,

rather than taking the advocacy to more of a watchdog role (such as to

prevent questionable reporting numbers, or to ensure that buyers

followed existing green procurement policies), they could only be

advocates. And what better to ensure that you will always have a career

as an advocate than to get people to commit to trying to achieve

something unattainable (zero waste). They keep their role of only being

"pure" and "never comprimising", and sneering at those with a lesser

commitment than they have. Fine for them. Just not a black hole that I

want to see all of our hard work and success over the past 20 years

sucked into.


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